April 28, 2009
I am sitting in a coffee shop, listening to the grind of espresso and a young man hit upon the barista. Smooth words, polite demeanor. Bad pop ballads playing over the store speakers. Espresso shots tamped, pulled, dumped in lattes, mochas, frappuccinos, overpriced specialty organic flavored coffee drinks that now comprise a billions-dollar industry. I try to be economical – purchase a cafe au lait – but realize I can easily make this at my home. I purchase the temporary ‘away’ space, if nothing else.
The day is grey and dreary. Clouds smother the sky, sun attempting to shine through but miserably failing. Result: bright, grey glare and spattered raindrops every quarter hour. Traffic stalls on the road outside– late lunch rush. Exhaust fumes leak from cars and mix with the wispy moisture from sky above.
Northwest spring fosters discontent. A tease of skies and seasons to come. Such it is every year. Cycles, circles, synchronic time, all shifts and melts into one another as always, save for slight changes brought upon by global warming carbon dioxide greenhouse gases. Melted ice, shifting patterns, endangered species. I saw fashion lingerie at a department store that proclaimed “Stop Global Warming” and thought my $5.99 would be better spent on actually helping the environment, like a reusable water bottle. Less plastic, less waste. Better environment.
Rain mixed fuel exhaust polluting the glaring, smothering clouds. Auto makers in despair, in the red. Pontiac axed, which is next? Advertisement on the television speaks of new technology in sedan– computer that magically knows of traffic snarls and suggests alternate routes. Good idea but clean, renewable fuel even better. Traffic will always be a reality for cities, towns, villages, roundabouts in Biot, France and Detroit, Michigan. Fossil fuels will not. Wind solar electric biodiesel. Washington State discovered a potential way to use tree waste as fuel. Trees– renewable resources, renewable energy. Trees, which die and burn from deforestation, illegal logging, asphyxiated by greenhouse gases. Trees that exchange carbon dioxide for oxygen. Oxygen and hydrogen, H2O. Two parts hydrogen, one part oxygen. Chemistry. H2O = water.
Cafe au lait has lost flavor, gone cold. Water sounds more pleasing, easy access at nearest sink, tapwater fills glass, add ice. They say the next looming crisis will be about water. The two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen. Two gases that form quenching, life-sustaining liquid, more valuable than compressed carbon called diamonds for which people die while trying to find. Wells dry up; sometimes wells do not even exist. Yet we have showers that last ten fifteen twenty minutes. Twenty minutes of gloriously hot water, pounding daily troubles away, massaging tension from neck muscles, cleaning hair with sweet-smelling herbal essences.
Voices say we want to be better, more responsible, more innovative, more creative. Better stewards of the planet. Grey exhaust mist, bottled water, burned forests, needless food packaging, pollutants rise temperatures ozone layer thinning. Earth Day passed last week with barely a murmur. Tree plantings sanctioned by city governments and schools– good, benign. In 1970, a group of people poured oil outside the Interior Department in protest.
A woman is talking of Mexico. Pesos, vacations, canceled vacations. Swine flu, pandemic. No pandemic, mutant strain of flu. You’re more likely to die in a car accident on the exhaust-muddled streets than from swine flu. This is not the bubonic plague. Thousands die of hunger each day– there’s a pandemic problem. Pandemic: (adj) existing everywhere, as in a ‘pandemic fear of flu-like symptoms, nuclear war, economic crises.’ There is a hunger pandemic.
Grey mottled skies and cafe au laits. Another paper cup thrown in rubbish bin. I, too, contribute to the trashing of this planet, earth, environment. When will it end? Who is responsible? Collective pronoun– we. We are responsible. Washable coffee mug over fancy-cupped espresso. Bicycles over cars. Quick showers efficient lightbulbs compost bins local vegetables carpooling vegetarianism recycle community farms. What shall we do?
Now is the spring of our discontent.
April 17, 2009
Pirates. They swarm our cinema screens, paperback novels, and costume parties. There is even an international Talk Like a Pirate Day. I confess: I, too, succumb to the allure of piracy. The old tall ships with masts and gangplanks; the black and white Jolly Roger flag, the elusive treasure, the seafaring fashion, the wanton disregard for any form of authority. Oh, the excitement.
From Captain Hook to Jack Sparrow, from Dread Pirate Roberts to Billy Bones, Bluebeard to Mary Read– pirate tales abound in both fiction and historical account. The actual stories of piracy are not the wildly imaginative ones of Gore Verbinski, nor are they very pleasant. (History buffs, check out history.com/minisites/pirates for ‘true’ pirate history in the Caribbean.) Yet somehow we have ended up glamorizing piracy, in all their eye-patched wonder. I think we have Mr. James Barry to thank for that. And thank him, I do. Pirates are fun, fanciful characters we get to watch on screen or masquerade at parties, ‘eh matey?
But there is a certain tremor of caution within all this. If we romanticize too much, we often forget the ugly brutality of reality. Last week’s drama with the Somali pirates presents a perfect example. Piracy is anything but dead– it’s just walking in a new pair of boots. The most astonishing part of this entire ordeal is the tenacious fervor with which the media followed the story. Networks and newspapers sunk their teeth into the ongoing saga and milked it for every ounce of primetime news coverage they could.
I suppose I was surprised because Somali pirates have been active for a few years now. I remember reading about the instance in 2005 when Somali pirates attacked a cruise ship. They were not able to board, but the attempt has appeared to frighten other luxury ships away from the Somali coast ever since. In March 2006, CNN reported that Somali pirates had kidnapped 50 Yemeni fishermen; and in 2007, pirates hijacked a North Korean freighter. Just this past weekend, two Egyptian fishing trawlers were captured. The list of nefarious deeds goes on. Did we hear much about these various events? Maybe a blurb or two– nothing like the coverage of this most recent hostage situation. It seems that once pirates attacked the U.S., we then gave them our attention.
For me, one of the most frightening aspects of last week’s event is President Obama’s vow to “halt the rise of piracy.” What exactly does that mean? How does a nation stop international lawlessness? And what rights do the U.S. have in patrolling non-U.S. waters in the way of combating piracy? An article on Tuesday said that the U.S. is considering to add Navy gunships along the Somali coastline and to disable pirate ‘mother ships’ (Columbian). The very idea of policing foreign waters calls to mind the Big Stick diplomacy of Theodore Roosevelt. Not that it will go that far, but as evidenced by Iraq and Afghanistan, one never knows.
In no way do I seek to diminish the courage displayed by Captain Richard Phillips or the U.S. Navy Seals, who rescued him. An American captain was taken hostage; it was the U.S. military’s duty to ensure his safe return. But to halt the rise of piracy? Is that one country’s responsibility? I think not. Modern-day piracy is a concern to be dealt with, but not by one nation. And certainly before this brand of piracy becomes as fashionable as their 18th century counterparts.
April 12, 2009
After a hiatus of not attending Good Friday services, I stepped into a chapel yesterday at noon. The service had been set up like a modern-day funeral. The pastor had been posing the question all week: What would it have been like to not know that Jesus would return? That his death was the end of what he talked about and lived out. The service treated Jesus in a very human way, with the characters addressing him as ‘this guy.’ Instead of being disrespectful, I found the approach to be deeply moving. It was an innovative way to address Good Friday. Being raised in the church, I have become desensitized to the simple power of the stories and histories found within the Judeo-Christian tradition. My brain has trouble grasping the sheer amount of faith Abraham exhibited when he took his son on the mountain in Moriah. After all, I have heard that story a thousand times by now. I’ve been told that Abraham is a paragon of godly faithfulness. Yet, somehow, I’ve grown numb to the depth of his actions, his choices, his history. The same can be said of Jesus’s ministry, and even his death and resurrection. The stories and implications have been hammered into my brain since I can remember, and as such, lost their potency.
The answer, for me, is not to watch The Passion of the Christ until I shake in horror at the violence inflicted upon Jesus. Very few can watch that film and not wince at the brutality of Roman executions. A more subtle response is needed. I believe the use of narrative and imagination helps in this aspect. As I sat in the service, I decided to fully immerse myself in the drama taking place. I willingly allowed myself to engage the suspension of disbelief. What if I did not have the knowledge that Jesus would return? What would his funeral have felt like? What would it have been like to encounter Jesus, experience miraculous healing from the man, and then see him in a casket a couple years later? The man who healed so many succumbed to death himself. Now that is something my brain cannot fully grasp.
One of the speakers/characters spoke of the time when he sat in a synagogue and listened to the scribes. He was an intelligent man– devout and dedicated to philosophical thought. And he shared of an occasion when this man Jesus started asking provocative questions. Jesus impressed this man with his different, unusual, ‘fresh’ perspectives. The encounter was a brief one, yet he remembered it when he heard of Jesus’s death, and of the controversy surrounding it. ‘What he said at the synagogue was interesting, but I did not think much of it,’ the man told those at the funeral. ‘Now I wonder if maybe I should have listened to him more.’
I left the service yesterday with a heaviness upon my shoulders, and I spent the rest of the afternoon ruminating upon matters of faith and death, notions of truth, of numbed reception and retrieval of the Radical. Halfway through I realized that my personal faith is in a truly postmodern state. I can no longer accept the stories I heard back in Sunday school at face value. As one who enjoys intellectual discussion and dissection of thought, I want to analyze and engage every viewpoint until I reach a rational conclusion. At the same time, I recognize that matters of faith are rarely simple. They are mysterious and complex; they just cannot be explained neatly in a rational, provable fashion. So in the truest sense of postmodernism I have been deconstructing my faith to its most organic and bare elements over the past eleven months. All the broken, disparate pieces are hung in suspension, waiting to be analyzed, tested, and illuminated. Now I’ve started to approach the various pieces with fresh and different perspectives, carefully examining each one, and beginning the daunting task of reconstructing my beliefs. Postmodernism does not end with a rubbled mess of destruction. You’re only halfway there at that point. The challenge is to reconstruct– adding in voices that were not there previously, world experiences, personal revelations, the growth and changes we humans go through (hopefully) on this path we call Life. Good Friday allowed me to examine another piece, that of Jesus’s death. By placing myself in a story and honestly meditating on his death, I felt my cultivated numbness seep away, and the encounter hit me hard. The significance of Good Friday returned. It was a small piece, but nonetheless another disparate fragment–one of the several thousand orbs of my deconstructed faith– illuminated.